According to state education officials, four- year high school graduation rates are at their highest ever, but gaps remain among low-income students, students of color, and those with disabilities. Rhode Island KIDS COUNT (RIKC), a children’s advocacy nonprofit, released a report Monday outlining early warning signs that a student might drop out and ways to bridge the graduation gap.
The Rhode Island Department of Education says four-year graduation rates went from 70 percent in 2007 to 85 percent in 2016. State data also notes high- income students graduated at a rate of 93 percent while their less affluent peers graduated at a rate of 79 percent.
RIKC officials say statewide efforts will keep graduation rates on the rise, but recommendations in their report could help boost the pace.
“The data we are releasing today shows steady progress that can be accelerated if we focus on what every student needs to successfully connect to college and careers,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of RIKC.
Stephanie Geller is a senior policy analyst with Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. She says identifying students at risk of dropping out as early as the third grade could make a big difference. Geller says students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
The RIKC brief recommends increasing access to early education and child care programs to get young students up to speed.
Data suggests chronic absence is another warning sign that a student might drop out of high school. A 2014 report determined attendance was a better indicator of a student’s dropout risk than their eighth-grade test scores.
RIKC says keeping better attendance data at all grade levels paired with better relationships with students’ families could help keep at-risk students in school.
The report stresses providing students with tools that will teach them social and emotional skills for college and adulthood. RIKC calls it student- centered learning. Part of the approach includes access to Advanced Placement courses and technical courses.
“Students see what they’re learning as relevant to them, connected to college and careers, and really helping them move towards their personal post-secondary career goals,” explained Geller.
Geller says rigorous coursework that gets student buy-in, paired with early warning systems that identify students at risk of dropping out, could help reduce the existing achievement gaps.
To read the full report visit http://www.rikidscount.org/.